The Unique Position of National Human Rights Institutions: A Mixed Blessing?

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National Human Rights Institutions can play a key role in promoting and protecting human rights. They are able to do so by the unique position they occupy between government, civil society, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). However, this unique position which holds out opportunities for national human rights institutions also gives rise to problems for such institutions. National human rights institutions have to define and defend their role or space in relation to where they fit in with government and civil society. This can create difficulties for national human rights institutions with respect to their independence and accountability; two key concepts which are crucial for a national human rights institution’s legitimacy, credibility, and ultimately its effectiveness. This article explores these challengesand opportunities using examples from different countries. It further draws out a more subtle understanding of independence and accountability by conceptually unearthing the different layers within the two concepts. In conclusion, a number of recommendations are made as to how national human rights institutions can maintain their independence, while engaging with and being accountable to both government and civil society. The articleis supported in its conclusions by a series of semi-structured interviews with key institutional players in the national human rights institution world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)904-946
JournalHuman Rights Quarterly
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Nov 2006


  • national human rights institutions
  • independence
  • accountability


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